In early January 2020, I had the incredible opportunity to escape the cold northeast and enjoy Disney's Hawaiian Resort: Aulani, A Disney Resort & Spa. It's an adventure I had always wanted to take and Aulani did not disappoint!
My husband was returning from what seemed like a never-ending deployment that had already been extended 3 times, so when announced he would be stopping on the island of Oahu before reaching home, I jumped at the chance to meet him there (KID FREE - gasp)!
A Lush Hawaiian Paradise
Although Aulani is a Disney resort, you won't be overwhelmed with Mickey and other theme park elements here. In fact, while the hospitality and high quality we've come to associate with the Disney brand is obvious, it's a totally different vibe than the Disney resorts in California and Florida. In one word? It's CHILL.
Aulani is located on the coast of the Ko Olina area of Oahu, set apart from the concrete jungle of Waikiki - but close enough to enjoy the hustle and bustle of shopping and entertainment district there. Ko Olina was thoughtfully designed for residential and a few select resorts to cohabitate in a peaceful environment. Once inside this gated community, you'll find grocery stores, dining, and shopping set amongst the small neighborhoods and resort complexes.
Aulani is tucked away, most of the resort facing the ocean. Once we drove up to the resort (I highly recommend renting a car while on Oahu), we were greeted by friendly faces offering me a fresh floral lei, and my husband a kukui nut lei, along with fruit-infused ice water, before being directed to check-in.
Disney loves to create grand entrances as the beginning of your 'show'; Aulani was no different - if not more breathtaking than any of their other resorts. The large lobby soars high above your head and is covered in Hawaiian culture and beauty. Everywhere you look, you'll find a new detail you may have missed before.
But then, your eyes are drawn dramatically forward, through the building, to the open-air lanai in front of you - a sweeping Hawaiian paradise before you, the ocean lining the perfect backdrop.
Later, on a resort tour with a cast member, the Oahu native told us how much care was taken when imagining the resort and constructing the details to allow the Hawaiian culture and natural elements to shine. Even the small details, down to small elements like lamp posts, hark back an earlier time where the different nuts and oil were used to create their light sources. You won't find disrespectful or tacky misrepresentations of the Hawaiian culture at Aulani.
The resort buildings sit in a horseshoe shape with recreation, dining, and activities within. This layout of the resort made the views of inside rooms not only gorgeous but interesting. I loved peering over our balcony to watch what everyone was up to below - lazy rivers, pools, waterslides, or paddleboarding in the ocean. While you won't find any theme parks here, there is plenty for everyone in your family to do.
For the Kids...
Water slides, a lazy river, multiple pools, and interactive splash pads will thrill your kids and keep them happy all day long. Other water activities for the kids include snorkeling in Rainbow Reef, their private saltwater snorkeling lagoon where kids can see fish without needing to tackle waves in the ocean, craft programs, and water craft rentals.
Near the beach, complimentary sand toys and boogie boards are available, or you can rent kayaks, paddleboards, and snorkeling equipment to explore the ocean.
Popular character meet and greets with friends such as Mickey, Minnie, Moana, Chip, and Dale, are located several times a day on the grounds with only a short wait.
For the Adults...
Adults will enjoy this resort just as much as the little ones - secluded adults-only pools and whirlpool spas make it a relaxing getaway. Innovative treatments make the on-property spa one of the best, along with hydrotherapy showers and an 18+ only outside garden.
Other complimentary activities included in your stay:
Live entertainment by local artists
A scavenger hunt that teaches you the legend of the Menehune
Firepit storytelling - join Uncle most night oceanside in the glow of the fire
Outdoor movie nights
Aunty's Beach House - childcare for kids ages 3-12 is provided so parents can enjoy the adults-only areas
Aulani is comprised of a traditional hotel wing and a Disney Vacation Club (DVC) wing, although you can pay cash to stay either side based on your preferences.
The hotel rooms are traditional rooms that you may find at other Disney resorts, many with two queen layouts. The DVC wing is made up of villa units - studio, one-bedroom, two-bedroom, and a grand villa with 3 bedrooms. The main difference from a traditional hotel room is that villas include a kitchenette in the studio and full kitchens inside the larger rooms.
There are many view options, all pretty self-explanatory. We choose an oceanview and were very happy with our view of both the ocean and the surrounding resort areas.
The one drawback to resort design I noticed was that because of the size and spaciousness of the resort, I had to sometimes walk quite a ways for food. For instance, most mornings we didn't want a heavy breakfast and decided instead to grab a croissant and coffee. Unfortunately for us, the coffee shop was entirely on the other side of the resort. I wish they would put a cafe or more grab-and-go options in more locations closer to guest rooms.
Overall, we had great experiences eating at Disney's Aulani. Of the several quick-service restaurants on property, our favorite was Mama's Snack Stop, a walk-up poolside shop. The coconut shrimp were delicious!
Another favorite was 'Ama 'Ama, the signature 'fine dining' establishment at Aulani. While I have heard mixed reviews in the past, I can say that my scallops were really good and hubby enjoyed his fish stew.
A casual character buffet is also located in the main building with the traditional Disney characters. Grab some favorites like Mickey waffles for breakfast, or island-inspired dishes for dinner.
Cultural and Additional Activities
There are several additional activities that you can take part in at the resort, and also around the island of Oahu, that Aulani will happily help organize for you.
KA WA‘A – A Lū‘au at Aulani - an immersive evening of entertainment that tells the story of the ancestors of Hawaii. Tickets for the Lu'au start at $144 Adults/$94 Kids and include:
Pre-show activities such as flower lei making, temporary tattoos, and paʻi ai taro pounding.
Large buffet dinner with pork, prime rib, authentic island fare, kid-friendly foods, dessert bar, and one complimentary specialty drink.
Unlike the Walt Disney World resorts, there is not complimentary transportation to and from the airport (Honolulu International), nor is there provided transportation to local activities. For this reason, I highly recommend renting a car. The island of Oahu is fairly small and it's an easy drive to local activities outside the resort.
Aulani, A Disney Resort & Spa: is it right for you?
Aulani absolutely blew us out of the water! The quality of this resort and availability of activities and amenities make it a can't miss bucket-list vacation destination. Previously, it was on my list of 'someday' trips, but I'm SO glad I went sooner than later. As someone who plans family vacations every single day, I can honestly say it's unlike anything else out there.
I think you'll love a stay at Disney's Aulani if:
You're looking for an immersive, all-in-one resort experience
You appreciate quality accommodations and do not mind paying a premium for a fantastic experience
You value cultural activities
You're in need of a relaxing getaway (this is NOT a theme park experience!)
You need larger villas with kitchens and multiple bathrooms for large families or multigenerational groups.
You like EASY - Aulani is a perfect way to dip your toes into 'bigger' travel with kids but you're still in a safe and trusted environment!
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